More than a gut feeling: Q&A with John Cryan

John Cryan, a neuropharmacologist and microbiome expert from the University College Cork, reveals surprising and perhaps strange facts and insights about how our thoughts and emotions are connected to our guts.

Butterflies in the brain? Neuroscientist and microbiome expert at TEDMED 2014 [Photo: Sandy Huffaker for TEDMED].
Butterflies in the brain? Neuroscientist and microbiome expert at TEDMED 2014 [Photo: Sandy Huffaker for TEDMED].

What motivated you to speak at TEDMED?

It is an amazing opportunity to put forward a relatively novel concept, in my case that the microbiome may be a key regulator of brain function. The microbiome is one of the hottest areas in medicine and this opportunity allowed me to bring this within a neuroscience context.

Why does this talk matter now? What impact do you hope the talk will have?

The talk summarizes the research on microbe-brain interactions. This is a rapidly evolving field and truly multidisciplinary in nature; I hope my talk reflects this. This research has implications across many aspects of medicine, including psychiatry, gastroenterology, obstetrics, gynecology and pediatrics.

Is there anything else you wish you could have included in your talk?

Recently, we have been focusing on why, from an evolutionary context, microbe-brain interactions emerged; I wasn’t able to go into this very much during my talk. At TEDMED I talked about how bacteria are required for brain development and social behavior but don’t ask why; in a recent paper we collaborated with the evolutionary microbiologist Seth Bordenstein from Vanderbilt to discuss some of the reasons behind this.

What’s next for you?

Right now we are looking to understand the mechanisms as to how microbes could influence the brain. Moreover, we are investigating the impact of naturalistic disturbances of the microbiota on brain function and behaviours such as Cesarean delivery, antibiotic use and early life stress.

Join us for a live Twitter Chat with John at 2:30pm EST on Thursday, March 19, as part of Brain Awareness Week! Tweet your advance questions #TEDMED and #BrainWeek. Check back on our blog for chat topics!